Those who know me will know that I am rubbish at taking a lunch BREAK. I always have lunch but very rarely a BREAK. I have worked in a range of different roles in clinical practice, management and strategic leadership as well as freelance and found it tough to take a break in all those environments. However we know that those who don’t take a lunch break report feeling less productive, more moody and even physically ill. So here are my tips for making sure you and your team take your lunch break.
- Create the right culture – this year BUPA reported a study of 2000 full time workers, which found that a quarter of those who took part did not take a break at all over the working day. The top reasons cited were having too much work and seeing that their boss did not take a break. In my view changing workplace culture to one of care for employees as people has to come solidly from the top. Every senior job I’ve had has involved back to back meeting schedules with my poor PAs trying to manage people’s expectations when everything is deemed urgent and important and there is only the tiniest 10 minute window in my diary. When I did get time to review and develop business plans and reports I felt the pressure of the deadline so heavily that often I would not even get up to go the the loo. Obviously I drunk less so this would be less uncomfortable. All this happened because it was the norm. Walking clubs and lunch groups were encouraged but this almost felt as though it was for the unambitious or very junior staff or those who had come back after a serious illness. This is very wrong! We all have to find ways to work smarter. We need to be busy and focused and productive but not immobile, dehydrated and suffering from low blood sugars. Change is possible and interesting models to look at include Disney, Arrows Group and Bard Pharmaceuticals. All these companies have invested in wellbeing programmes specifically tailored to their businesses and workforce needs. Every organisation’s solution will be different but in all cases it gets driven from all levels including the very top.
- Consider extended lunch breaks once a week where everyone’s diary is protected – this will put a regular focus on lunch and will enable you to offer lunchtime walks or classes in maybe yoga, pilates, resistance training or mindfulness (see below.) The solution will vary depending on your environment. One organisation I know had a stair walking club because there was no space for exercise classes and walks rarely happened because of the weather. Stairwells can be very uninspiring but you could consider some woodland art work or similar to make it a bit more appealing.
- Support your staff to develop mindfulness practice – Jon Kabat-Zin has defined mindfulness as “Paying attention in a particular way, on purpose and non-judgementally.” There is good evidence to show that the practice of mindfulness helps with anxiety and depression. Evidence for its role in the workplace and in helping people eat more healthily is still developing but a less anxious workforce has to be a good thing. I practice mindfulness to help me come out of auto-pilot so that I can think in fresh ways about challenges I face in the moment. Once people have been introduced to the techniques they can start to eat more mindfully, paying attention to the tastes, textures and smells and really enjoying their lunch rather than just gulping it down.
- Think about the environment – try to carve out some space for people to eat away from their desks. Using leftovers from meals prepared at home can be a great way for people to get a healthy, balanced meal at work without having to do any extra preparation although making a packed lunch is also good. Think about the availability of fridge space and microwaves to make all this possible. Share ideas for healthy lunches and offer staff seminars and workshops on healthy eating. If you are lucky enough to have a cafe or restaurant on site think about the food choices available. Make sure people have access to high fibre and high protein foods that will offer a slow steady release of sugar into the blood. Offer wholemeal and wholegrain carbohydrates such as wholemeal bread, wholegrain cereals, wholemeal pasta and cous cous. Jacket potatoes are another healthy high fibre choice. Consider an omelette bar and salad bar and try to have grilled or steamed fish and meat on the menu and plenty of fruit and low fat, unsweetened yogurt.
- Last but not least you do need to think about workload. Obviously organisations have to make a profit and/or deliver great value and service for their clients. Make an effort to explore workload objectively and to get the balance right. Think about making some radical changes and carry out some research to explore output and outcomes. It seems counter-intuitive to think that if people spend less time working they will achieve more but there is evidence that this is the case.
If your organisation would like support with a workplace wellness initiative please take a look at the link and get in touch to discuss your needs.